NEWS

FYROM solution lies in compound name

By Dora Antoniou - Kathimerini

«The time has come for decisions on the dispute with Skopje,» according to Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who outlined the government's strategy on the issue in this interview with Kathimerini. The government wants closure on a question that has been pending for 15 years. «Burying one's head in the sand has no place in foreign policy; we have to break this vicious circle,» observed Bakoyannis. «When we talk about a mutually acceptable solution, we mean a compound name.» Greece's position, in a dialogue within the framework of the United Nations, is for a distinct name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that will distinguish Greece's neighbor from the geographical entity of Macedonia. Athens's strategy is focused on inviting Skopje to a dialogue on that basis. The minister let it be understood that if this dispute over that country's name is resolved, Greece will support its candidacy for NATO and European Union membership. Otherwise, Bakoyannis said, Greece is determined to use all means at its disposal to resolve outstanding issues that obstruct good-neighborly relations. Bakoyannis believes that the government's determination «to have the problem solved now» has been recognized by its partners and allies. On the home front, she believes that political maturity and a sense of responsibility will prevail. Why is the discussion over FYROM's use of the name «Macedonia» so heated at the moment? The debate is not heated in the sense that the New Democracy government did not allow the issue to become the object of domestic partisan rivalry during the election campaign, nor will it do so now. We are not seeking to gain any political or partisan capital, or any other for that matter, out of this question. We should make it clear that we are now at a turning point where Skopje could receive an invitation to join NATO. It is time for decisions. Greece is proposing something very simple, unemotionally and with its sights on the future. If this alliance is to be truly effective and rise to the challenges of the future, with political security and stability in this region, it has to be founded on a stable basis. Problems in the Balkans, while there are still open wounds, such as Bosnia and mainly Kosovo, cannot be swept under the rug. It is time to resolve them. It is very simple: FYROM and Greece have undertaken a responsibility to resolve the name dispute. So we should do that. So the coming NATO membership process for FYROM is an opportunity for your government and yourself personally to close the matter? Exactly. Our objective is to have closure on an issue that for 15 years has been poisoning the two countries' relations, as well as the region in general. We are asking Skopje to abide by its commitments. Greece has promised to support Skopje, and we have. We are the biggest investors in the region, we have created more jobs than anyone else. We are in a position to support Skopje politically and economically. We want the best possible relations with them. What we want is for them to abide by the commitment they have made to contribute to the negotiation process mediated by the UN through Matthew Nimetz to find a mutually acceptable solution. That means that both we and Skopje will have to make concessions. So I invite them to move ahead with us and arrive at a solution, because it will chiefly benefit Skopje, enabling them to leave the past behind and move ahead. In your recent speech in Parliament you referred to a solution with a compound name. Is that what we are aiming at? If so, doesn't that call for a political party leaders' meeting? There is no question of that at the moment, but when I say a mutually acceptable solution, let me say that, yes, I mean a compound name. It is precisely an extension of the rationale I talked about earlier, and that is that if both sides stick to their original position, a solution will never be found. What would be unacceptable for Greece? The «Republic of Macedonia,» of course, cannot be acceptable, obviously. That is Skopje's starting point. Ours was not to have any mention of the word «Macedonia» or any derivative of it. A mutually acceptable solution must be in the nature of a distinct name that will distinguish that country from the rest of the geographical region of Macedonia, from Greek Macedonia and from the part of it that belongs to Bulgaria. From the geographical entity. And from any irredentist concepts that belong to the past. Irredentist propaganda of that nature is carried out by states that might feel they are dealing with the kind of problems that we overcame many years ago. Skopje is being offered a future that is hopeful, with democracy, security, stability, growth and prosperity. That is the substance of Greece's proposal. We hope that Skopje will accept that as positively as the way in which we are sending that message. Is Greece ready to do everything in its power to achieve that, in view of Skopje's prospects of joining NATO? The answer is yes. Greece believes that good-neighborly relations and the resolution of problems is a condition for participation in an alliance. And a consensus on the name issue is within the realm of good-neighborly relations? Yes. Good-neighborly relations in themselves cover all the other issues, such as propaganda or irredentism. We are in a vicious circle that we have to break. Burying one's head in the sand has no place in foreign policy. The time has come for all of us to take the steps required to move into the future together. Are our foreign interlocutors aware of our determination? Do you expect an escalation of pressure for Greece to agree to FYROM's accession (to NATO) without having resolved the name issue? I do expect that some partners will understand Greece's position, and others will have difficulties with it. There will be different views from different countries. I am listening to these views with respect. This is an issue which Greece believes must be solved and now. I believe that we can count on the understanding and solidarity of partners and allies who realize that no government comes out with such a clear statement if it doesn't mean it. Is there any indication of the intentions of UN mediator Matthew Nimetz? We know that Mr Nimetz is continuing to have talks. At some point there will be meetings between the two ambassador-negotiators. We are ready for a proposal that will be constructive and in the right direction toward a solution. Are higher-level talks likely? So far there has been no such suggestion. If Mr Nimetz suggests it, always within the context of the UN process, we are willing to agree to any positive proposal that will lead to a resolution. Due to the government's slim majority, or pressure on the part of the LAOS party, is there a risk that Parliament might not ratify any agreement reached? I believe that Greek politicians are sufficiently mature and responsible. The contacts I have had so far and my experience of working on foreign policy with the political parties and their leaders have been extremely positive. A painless solution for the government would be to postpone the issue, to invoke the interim agreement and agree to FYROM joining NATO under that name. Have you considered that? Politically painless solutions do not benefit the nation. Burying one's head in the sand always comes at a cost, as does political cowardice. Do you expect PASOK to agree to a solution with a compound name. Yes, I do. Does you find the political handling of this issue at all daunting? Let me say something that I do not want to be seen as boasting. When one takes an oath to serve in a position of responsibility, there is one thing that one can never do and that is to put any personal or party benefit above the good of the nation. The New Democracy government is conscious of that.

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